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Here’s Why We’re Not Celebrating Donald Trump for Talking About Paid Family Leave

Donald Trump holds a Women for Trump sign at a campaign rally

During his State of the Union Address, Donald Trump said some predictably awful things. He lied about immigration and crime and talked about his stupid, ineffectual wall. He lied about abortion. But he also said something that, in theory, should have been worth celebrating.

During his speech, Trump said he is “proud to be the first President to include in my budget a plan for nationwide paid family leave–so that every new parent has the chance to bond with their newborn child.”

It’s one of the United States’ great shames that we don’t have paid family leave for all parents. On a national level, companies with more than 50 employees are required to offer parents 12 weeks of leave, but it doesn’t need to be paid. Only about 13% of companies offer paid parental leave, and most of those are giant tech companies where employees are already likely to have savings and other safety nets. That’s not to say that they don’t benefit from paid leave, but hourly workers, freelancers, and others who are most likely to return to work early (or not take time off at all for fear of being fired) are the people most often left out of these programs.

So why aren’t we celebrating Trump’s declared commitment to this issue? It’s not just because Trump is the one saying it. It’s because his plan is garbage.

Paid family leave was an issue Ivanka Trump spoke a lot about during her father-boss’ campaign, back when she was convincing voters that she’d be a moderating influence on him and make him care about women. But all of the plans they came up with were terrible. First, it was six weeks of partial pay maternity-only leave, reinforcing the antiquated idea that only women are responsible for childcare. And even that, bafflingly, only applied to married birth mothers. The ACLU called that plan “as inadequate as it is discriminatory.”

Then Ivanka and Marco Rubio came up with a plan that HuffPost called “a paid parental leave plan that is actually worse than the current federal policy ― which is no policy at all.” It proposed funding paid leave by allowing new parents to borrow from their own social security benefits, “essentially stealing from their own future well-being.”

The plan Donald Trump seems to have landed on, though, relies on states’ unemployment insurance to cover six weeks of parental leave. One problem with that approach to providing funding for leave is that not all states’ unemployment programs can support this sort of plan, and many (especially conservatives) reject the idea of seeing their taxes raised to cover the increased payouts.

The plan also doesn’t cover other sorts of family leave. About 75% of those who take advantage of leave policies do so because of medical issues or to care for a family member.

On paper, it’s great that Trump mentioned family leave during the SOTU for the second year in a row. But hollow rhetoric and band-aid reforms can be worse than no action at all because it allows him to congratulate himself and then move on.

Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families, called Trump’s family leave lip service “a sham.” “In a way it gives him a path for checking a box he knows is enormously popular with the American people,” she said.

If Trump wanted to make actual difference, he might consider supporting the Democrat-led FAMILY Act. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Rosa DeLauro introduced this bill in 2013, but now that Democrats control the House, there’s a serious chance they could finally make some headway with it.

The bill would guarantee 12 weeks of partially paid leave (at 66% percent, with a cap, but advocates say there’s talk of increasing that amount for low-income workers) for new parents as well as for those who need to care for family members or their own serious health conditions. It would also establish a new Office of Paid Family and Medical Leave, and is funded by negligible payroll contributions.

The bill reportedly has momentum in the House, but advocates expect resistance in the Senate. If Trump and Senate Republicans actually cared about women, families, and Americans in general, the FAMILY Act is something they could get behind, or at least use as a jumping-off point for discussions. But as we’ve seen so many times, Trump cares more about vilifying Democrats than helping Americans and despite his empty calls for unity at the SOTU, tends to reject legislation introduced by Democrats on principle.

So forgive us if we’re not celebrating Trump as a feminist or families’ advocate at this point in time.

(image: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

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Vivian Kane (she/her) has a lot of opinions about a lot of things. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri with her husband Brock Wilbur and too many cats.